01 April 2011

Republicans wage war on the environment (with a little help from the Democrats)

If anyone still believes we are going to save ourselves from environmental catastrophe, the U.S. Congress is doing its best to disabuse us of our optimism. It has mounted a wholesale effort to preclude any serious efforts by the American government to deal with climate change.

The Republicans have introduced bills that would bar the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from  regulating carbon emissions from power plants and factories and would allow no further reductions in emissions from cars after 2016. Their budget spending proposals reserved the biggest cut of any government agency for the EPA—30% of its budget. The cuts would do away with funds for such items as protecting salmon in San Francisco bay, treating sewage going into Florida's lakes, and weaken rules for mercury pollution from cement kilns. They would even eliminate funding for the president's energy and climate adviser and the state department envoy to UN climate negotiations. Democrat representatives from coal and oil states, although generally more moderate than the Republicans, have nonetheless shown support for anti-environment legislation.

All this is aided and abetted by similar measures in various states. Republican governors in New Mexico and Maine are attempting to reverse air and water pollution laws as well as efforts to promote alternative energy. Wisconsin's infamous governor, Scott Walker, intends to cut funding for local recycling programs.

According to Bill Becker, secretary of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies,"It is as if they are trying to throw as much slop against a wall as they can and hoping some of it sticks in the end. The more they throw the more they feel may stick, and they are throwing quite a bit." Joe Mendelson, director of global warming policy at the National Wildlife Federation, adds, "They are using the budget process as a costume to hide what they are doing, which is a full-on assault against our fundamental environmental protections."

Obama can veto federal bills, of course, but even his stance on the environment is weakening. He has, for example, downgraded the post of climate adviser. He has expanded offshore drilling rights, extended $36-billion in loan guarantees for new nuclear plants, and opened up 7,500 acres for coal mining in Wyoming.

How the American people will react to all this is hard to predict. On the one hand, 83 per cent consistently agree that stricter laws and regulations are needed to protect the environment. On the other hand, the number who consider protecting the environment is a priority even if it means slower economic growth and job losses has fallen precipitously from 69 per cent in 2002 to 51 per cent in 2009. In other words, support for environmental protection is widespread but soft which makes it easy for polluters to manipulate. And, of course, they do, with coal, oil and chemical companies spending multi-millions to support climate change deniers such as the Tea Partiers and amenable politicians. 

If the world's largest economy does nothing to reduce its assault on the environment, the global prospects are grim. I post this on April 1st, but it is no April Fool's joke. The future of our civilization is at stake.

1 comment:

  1. I struggle with this every day. I know some earth scientists - 1 hydrologist, a couple of geologists, 1 silvaculturalist - some academics, the rest public servants. They're all two faced. One is the optimistic face they put on for public consumption, the other is the real face they show sitting down over a beer.

    My better half has gone back to UBC to study environmental sustainability. She tells me there's precious little optimism there.

    People don't realize that the window of opportunity to act is closing. The very concept of "tipping points" has been lost to their consciousness.

    Jared Diamond in "Collapse" chronicles how earlier civilizations realized they were destroying themselves yet did nothing to stop it. The difference this time is that we're doing it on a global scale. Bill, we're all Easter Islanders now.

    Yet I can't give up the fight for what is that but surrendering to despair? Our Canada has so many undeserved advantages over other nations, so many ways we can implement adaptation strategies. But the window for many of those is also closing.